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United States General Accounting Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, 
Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives. 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 3:30 p.m., EDT: 
Tuesday, May 21, 2002: 

Environmental Protection: 

MTBE Contamination From Underground Storage Tanks: 

Statement of John Stephenson: 
Director, Natural Resources and Environment: 


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the increasing concern that our
nation’s waters are becoming contaminated with methyl tertiary butyl
ether (MTBE). About a third of the states, in certain areas, use 
gasoline that contains MTBE to help them limit air pollution because it 
burns cleaner. However, the substance could also pose risks to human 
health, especially as a contaminant in drinking water wells. One of the 
primary ways in which the contaminant has migrated into wells and 
groundwater is from leaking underground tanks used to store gasoline. 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the responsibility through
the Underground Storage Tank Program and working primarily through
the states to ensure the tanks do not leak, and if they do, that the
contamination is cleaned up. However, several studies, including our own
report on EPA’s implementation of the tank program,[Footnote 1] showed 
that many tanks have leaked—and continue to leak—hazardous substances, 
such as MTBE and benzene. These leaks, in turn, contaminate soil and
groundwater, posing health risks to those who live nearby or drink the
water. Such health risks can range from nausea to kidney or liver damage
or even cancer. As a result, some communities have closed their drinking
water wells. A recent news report illustrates the problem. A school in
Roselawn, Indiana, discovered that the children had been using and
drinking water with nearly 10 times the EPA-recommended safe level of
MTBE. I understand that an investigation is trying to determine whether
the MTBE came from a nearby tank and whether it is a factor contributing
to the children’s nosebleeds and other reported health problems. 

When there is a gasoline overflow, spill, or tank leak—referred to as
releases—the tank owners and operators are to report the incident to EPA
if the release is on tribal lands, or otherwise to the state agency
implementing the tank program, and to initiate cleanup. Most releases 
are not discovered, however, until the tanks are taken out of service, 
when they must be permanently closed to eliminate future leaks. To help 
states cover their program costs, the Congress annually provides the 
states with grants from a trust fund it created in 1986. In fiscal year 
2001, states each received from $252,000 to $4.5 million, depending 
primarily on their cleanup workload, for a total of $58.7 million. 
States can use these resources for, among other things, cleaning up 
releases when the owner or operator is unable or unwilling to perform 
the cleanup, or cannot be identified. The fund is replenished primarily 
through a $.001/gallon federal tax on gasoline and other fuels and had 
a balance of $1.7 billion at the end of fiscal year 2001. 

Because of rising concerns about continuing releases and the resulting
contamination, especially from MTBE, we determined the (1) extent to
which these releases may contain MTBE, and whether the contaminant
poses health risks or affects cleanups, (2) progress states have made in
cleaning up releases, and (3) the party responsible for the cleanup 
costs. In summary, we found the following: 

* A majority of the 50 states have reported finding MTBE when they
discover gasoline contamination at their tank sites and, increasingly, 
in their groundwater, surface water, and drinking water. This widespread
contamination occurs, even though currently only certain communities
in only about one-third of the states use gasoline with MTBE as a fuel
additive. Contamination continues because, among other things, MTBE
has been used in the past as an octane enhancer and is currently
transported through the same fuel pipes and trucks that deliver
gasoline across the country.[Footnote 2] MTBE’s health effects have not 
been conclusively established, but the federal government has 
determined it to be a potential human carcinogen. Because of the health
uncertainties, EPA has not regulated MTBE; instead it has simply
advised people not to drink water that contains concentrations in
excess of 20 to 40 parts per billion. Fourteen states have gone further
on their own and partially or completely banned the use of MTBE
within their borders or established other regulations on its use.
According to a December 2000 report on a survey of state tank program
managers sponsored by EPA,[Footnote 3] finding MTBE at a tank site does 
not typically affect the cleanup method but can increase the time and 
cost of cleanup because MTBE travels faster and farther than other 
gasoline contaminants. Several states reported that their cleanup costs 
doubled as a result of addressing MTBE. 

* States have made progress in addressing the releases they have
discovered, including MTBE contamination, but face a continuing and
substantial cleanup workload. States reported to EPA that they have
completed cleanups of 64 percent of the more than 400,000 identified
releases as of the end of fiscal year 2001, and have begun some type of
cleanup action for another 26 percent. Nevertheless, states still have 
to both complete these ongoing cleanups and begin cleanups for almost
another 40,000 releases, or determine that they do not pose enough risk
to warrant a cleanup. In addition, states face a potentially large, but
unknown, future workload in addressing releases from a number of 
sources, as we previously reported. These include unidentified 
abandoned tanks, identified but empty and inactive tanks that have not
yet been removed, active tanks that leak because their leak detection
and prevention equipment is not being properly operated and maintained, 
and unreported leaks from tanks in those states that do not inspect 
them. Some states reported that even their new tanks with the latest 
leak detection and prevention equipment are leaking, increasing the 
cleanup workload. A majority of the 13 states that we contacted— those 
that had cleaned up many releases or had a large backlog left to 
address—identified the lack of staff to oversee cleanups as a barrier
affecting cleanup progress. 

* States typically depend on tank owners or operators to pay some
portion of cleanup costs and cover the remainder with their own
funding programs. The states depend on the relatively small federal
trust fund grants to pay staff to oversee cleanups and administer their
programs. States typically do not receive appropriations from their
legislatures to cover their cleanup costs but pay for them out of funds
supported by state gasoline tax revenues, annual tank fees, or both. In
a May 2001 survey of state funding programs, by the Vermont
Department of Environmental Conservation,[Footnote 4] 36 states 
reported having adequate funding to cover their current costs while 11 
reported having more costs to cover than funds available. In addition, 
16 states have stopped accepting, or are scheduled to stop accepting, 
new claims for reimbursements, leaving it up to tank owners to obtain 
adequate insurance or other means to cover their cleanup liabilities. 
In the future, some states may seek additional federal support when and 
if their funding programs end and they turn their attention to 
addressing the many unidentified abandoned tanks nationwide that have no
financially viable owners to pay for cleanup. 

MTBE Has Been Detected Nationwide But the Extent of Its Effect on Human
Health and the Cleanup of Releases Is Uncertain: 

While the full extent of MTBE contamination is unknown, most states
reported in the EPA-sponsored survey that they are finding the
contaminant in groundwater from releases at tank sites, and some are
beginning to find it in their drinking water sources. The extent to 
which the contaminant poses a health risk is uncertain, however, in 
part because EPA does not yet have the data necessary to determine 
MTBE’s health effects. Detecting MTBE from a release typically does not 
influence the type of cleanup method selected, but could increase the 
time and cost of the cleanup, according to a number of states. 

Most States Have Found MTBE in Groundwater from Releases at Tank Sites; 
Fewer Have Found It in Their Drinking Water: 

Portions of 17 states and the District of Columbia currently use 
gasoline potentially containing the additive MTBE to limit air 
pollution (see figure 1). However, MTBE is being detected nationwide 
because, among other things, it had been used as an octane enhancer in 
gasoline in the past and because the pipes and trucks used to carry 
gasoline throughout the nation have been cross contaminated with the 

Figure 1: States Using MTBE and Other Fuel Additives to Limit Air 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a map of the United States. The following states are 
depicted as using MTBE and other fuel additives to limit air pollution: 
District of Columbia; 
New Hampshire; 
New Jersey; 
New York; 
Rhode Island; 

Source: EPA. 

[End of figure] 

Forty-four states reported in the EPA-sponsored survey that they sample
groundwater at leaking tank sites and test it for MTBE.[Footnote 5] 
Furthermore, 35 states reported that they find MTBE in groundwater at 
least 20 percent of the time they sample for it, and 24 states said 
that they find it at least 60 percent of the time. 

States are not only finding MTBE at tank sites with reported 
releases—half of the states reported finding it at tank sites even when 
there was no documented release, although they did not know the number 
of these cases. About half of the states also reported finding MTBE 
that they could not attribute to a leaking tank and suspected that it 
came from other sources, such as above-ground tanks used to store fuel. 

The extent of MTBE contamination may be understated because some
tank releases go undetected and because only 19 states said that they 
are taking any extra steps to make sure that MTBE is not migrating 
further from a tank site than other contaminants when a release has been
detected. MTBE is less likely to cling to soil than other gasoline
components and dissolves more easily in water, allowing it to travel 
faster, farther, and sometimes deeper. Therefore, parties might have to 
use more test wells around a leaking tank to determine if and where 
MTBE is present. If states do not conduct the extra tests, they may not 
detect the MTBE. 

Some of the states that have identified MTBE contamination have also
found that it reached drinking water sources. More states may not have
reported finding MTBE in part because only 24 states in the EPA-
sponsored survey said that their drinking water program offices 
routinely analyzed drinking water sources for MTBE, while another 24 
said that their offices were not conducting these analyses. Although a 
number of states were not sure how many public or private drinking 
water wells had been contaminated by MTBE, 11 states said that at least 
10 public wells had been contaminated at the time of the survey, and 15 
states reported that 10 private wells had been closed. The Maryland 
Department of the Environment reported that MTBE was found in low 
concentrations in about 100 of more than 1,200 water systems tested. In 
contrast, some communities in California, Kansas, and Maine have had 
more extensive problems with contaminated groundwater. For example, 
Santa Monica, California, closed seven wells supplying 50 percent of 
the city’s water. 

At the national level, the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) and EPA have
conducted some water-monitoring efforts, but have yet to find high
concentrations of MTBE in many drinking water sources. According to a
USGS study, MTBE was detected in generally lower concentrations in 14
percent of surface water sources.[Footnote 6] Another USGS study points 
out, however, that it was 10 times more likely to find MTBE in areas 
that use it as a fuel additive to reduce pollution.[Footnote 7] A third 
USGS study, done in cooperation with EPA and issued in 2001, examined 
monitoring data from over 2,000 randomly selected community water 
systems in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions and reported that 
MTBE was detected in about 9 percent of the systems that analyzed 
samples for MTBE.[Footnote 8] Finally, EPA has completed the first year 
of a 3-year effort—under the recently implemented Unregulated 
Contaminant Monitoring Rule—to have all large water systems (serving 
populations of 10,000 or more), as well as selected small public water 
systems (serving populations of 3,000 or less), test their water for 
MTBE. Of the one-third of the systems required to test in the first 
year, 1 of 131 large systems and 3 of the 283 small systems detected 
the substance. 

Reviews on the Extent that MTBE in Drinking Water Poses Health Risks Are
Still Pending: 

An interagency assessment of potential health risks associated with fuel
additives to gasoline, primarily MTBE, concluded that while available 
data did not fully determine risks, MTBE should be regarded as a 
potential carcinogenic risk to humans.[Footnote 9] However, the extent 
that MTBE may be present in high concentrations in drinking water and 
jeopardizing public health is unknown. Because MTBE has a bad taste and 
odor at relatively low concentrations, people may not be able to 
tolerate drinking contaminated water in large enough quantities to pose 
a health risk. On the other hand, some people may become desensitized 
to the taste and smell and could end up drinking MTBE for years in 
their well water, according to the EPA program manager. 

EPA has efforts underway to fill in some of the data gaps on the health
effects of MTBE and its occurrence in drinking water supplies. 
Additional research and water quality monitoring must be concluded 
before EPA can determine whether a water quality standard—an 
enforceable limit on the concentration of MTBE allowed in drinking 
water—is warranted. EPA has issued an advisory suggesting that drinking 
water should not contain MTBE in concentrations greater than 20 to 40 
parts per billion, based on taste and odor concerns. EPA is considering 
taking further steps to regulate MTBE, but notes that to establish a 
federally enforceable standard could take about 10 years. 

While the potential health risks of MTBE are uncertain, 14 states—-9 of
which are not required to use a fuel additive to limit air pollution in 
certain areas—have partially or completely banned the use of MTBE 
within their boundaries (see figure 2). 

Figure 2: States That Have Banned MTBE: 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a map of the United States depicting states that have 
banned MTBE, as follows: 

Partial MTBE ban: 
South Dakota; 

Complete MTBE ban: 
Connecticut (2003); 
Minnesota (partial ban 2000; complete ban 2005); 
New York. 

Source: EPA. 

[End of figure] 

In addition, seven states reported in the December 2000 EPA-sponsored
survey that they had established their own health-based primary drinking
water standard for MTBE, as shown in figure 3. Six of these states
currently use fuel additives to limit air pollution and the seventh 
state voluntarily used such additives until 1999. 

Figure 3: States With a Health-Based Drinking Water Standard for MTBE: 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a map of the United States states with a health-based 
drinking water standard for MTBE, as follows: 
California (13 ppb); 
Maine (35 ppb); 
Massachusetts (70 ppb); 
New Hampshire (13 ppb); 
New Jersey (70 ppb); 
New York (50 ppb); 
Texas (240 ppb). 

Source: A Survey of State Experiences with MTBE Contamination at 
Leaking Underground Storage Tank Sites, New England Interstate Water 
Pollution Control Commission (December 15, 2000). 

[End of figure] 

Another five states reported establishing a secondary standard to limit 
the allowable amount of MTBE in drinking water. These standards vary
considerably, however, with concentrations ranging from 5 to 70 parts 
per billion. 

Discovery of MTBE Does Not Drive the Cleanup Methods Implemented, but
Could Increase the Cleanup’s Duration and Cost: 

According to the EPA-sponsored survey, 37 states said that finding
gasoline, or its components of concern,[Footnote 10] in soil or 
groundwater at a tank site is the primary driver of cleanup activities, 
not the presence of MTBE. In other words, the methods used to clean up 
gasoline can also be used to address MTBE contamination. These proven 
cleanup technologies include pumping and treating groundwater at its 
source, treating the water at its point of use by running it through a 
filter, or using a process known as air sparging (injecting air into 
the contaminated area to volatilize and extract MTBE). Letting the 
contaminant naturally break down over time—known as natural 
attenuation—may not be as effective as with other components of 
gasoline because MTBE persists longer in soil and groundwater. 

However, addressing MTBE could add time and costs to cleanups. 
According to the EPA-sponsored survey, 16 states reported cost increases
as a result of MTBE cleanup, most less than 20 percent; 5 states 
reported that their costs had doubled. States spent, on average, about 
$88,000 addressing releases at each tank site in fiscal year 2001. 
Nineteen states indicated that it could cost more to test for MTBE 
because they take additional steps to ensure that this contaminant is 
not migrating beyond other contaminants in a release. Several states 
reported that their laboratories charged $10 to $50 more per sample to 
analyze for MTBE. In addition, many of the 16 states that cited higher 
cleanup costs for MTBE attributed these increases to such factors as 
longer plumes and increased cleanup time. Finally, the discovery of 
MTBE can increase costs because filters used to remove MTBE from water 
have to be changed more frequently. 

States Have Made Progress in Cleaning Up Tank Releases, but Still Face 
a Potentially Large Cleanup Workload: 

States reported to EPA that as of the end of 2001, they had completed
cleanups of 64 percent (267,969) of the 416,702 known releases at tank
sites and had begun some type of cleanup action for another 26 percent
(109,486), as figure 4 illustrates. 

Figure 4: States Have Made Progress in Cleaning Up Tank Releases: 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a pie-chart depicting the following data: 

States Have Made Progress in Cleaning Up Tank Releases: 
Cleanups completed: 64% (267,969); 
Cleanups started but not completed: 26% (109,486); 
Cleanups not started: 9% (39,247). 

Note: Due to rounding, the percentages do not total 100 percent. 

Source: GAO’s analysis of data provided by states to EPA. 

[End of figure] 

Because states typically set priorities for their cleanups by first 
addressing those releases that pose the most risk, states may have 
already begun to clean up some of the worst releases to date. However, 
EPA tank program managers cautioned that some of the many cleanups that 
are underway may still be in their early stages because states have 
varying criteria for “underway.” For example, California reports a 
cleanup is underway as soon as a release is reported, even if no work 
has begun. In addition, states still have to address the remaining 
39,247 known releases (9 percent) where cleanup is not underway by 
either ensuring it has begun or is not needed because the releases do 
not pose a risk. Figure 5 illustrates the remaining cleanup workload 
for known releases in each state and the District of Columbia. 

Figure 5: States Still Have a Number of Cleanups to Initiate or 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a map of the United States states with the number of 
cleanups to initiate or complete indicated, as follows: 

Alabama: 1,911; 
Alaska: 1,192; 
Arizona: 2,509; 
Arkansas: 383; 
California: 15,051; 
Colorado: 1,318; 
Connecticut: 816; 
Delaware: 830; 
District of Columbia: 229; 
Florida: 20,273; 
Georgia: 4,124; 
Hawaii: 502; 
Idaho: 268; 
Illinois: 9,546; 
Indiana: 3,892; 
Iowa: 2,704; 
Kansas: 2,086; 
Kentucky: 2,792; 
Louisiana: 1,090; 
Maine: 98; 
Maryland: 3,446; 
Massachusetts: 1,894; 
Michigan: 9,087; 
Minnesota: 1,470; 
Mississippi: 406; 
Missouri: 1,339; 
Montana: 1,203; 
Nebraska: 3,220; 
Nevada: 327; 
New Hampshire: 900; 
New Jersey: 3,609; 
New Mexico: 1,126; 
New York: 3,290; 
North Carolina: 7,021; 
North Dakota: 45; 
Ohio: 4,498; 
Oklahoma: 774; 
Oregon: 2,242; 
Pennsylvania: 4,723; 
Rhode Island: 295; 
South Carolina: 3,837; 
South Dakota: 592; 
Tennessee: 1,394; 
Texas: 6,678; 
Utah: 597; 
Vermont: 835; 
Virginia: 1,284; 
Washington: 2,620; 
West Virginia: 1,333; 
Wisconsin: 5,567; 
Wyoming: 1,467. 

Source: GAO’s analysis of data provided by states to EPA. 

[End of figure] 

As the figure shows, while states have made progress, seven states still
have more than 5,000 releases that they have not fully addressed. Most 
of the 13 states we contacted cited a lack of staff as a barrier to 
achieving more cleanups. For example, the May 2001 Vermont survey of 
state funding programs indicated that, on average across the states, 
each staff person was responsible for overseeing about 130 tank sites 
during that year. 

In addition to this known workload, states most likely will continue to 
face a potentially large but unknown future cleanup workload for a 
number of reasons: 

* In a June 2000 report to the Congress, EPA estimated that as many as
200,000 tanks nationwide may be unregistered, abandoned, or both, and 
have not been assessed for leaks.[Footnote 11] 

* Furthermore, even though many owners chose to close their tanks 
rather than upgrade them with leak detection and prevention equipment 
as federally required, tens of thousands of tanks nationwide are still 
empty and inactive, and have not been permanently closed, as we 
previously reported. Consequently, any leaks from these tanks may not 
have been identified. 

* We also reported that an estimated 200,000 or more active tanks were
not being properly operated or maintained, increasing the chance of a
spill or leak. For example, 15 states reported that leak detection
equipment was frequently turned off or improperly maintained. 

* In addition, we reported that many states do not inspect their tanks
frequently enough to ensure that they are not leaking and that known 
releases are reported. Only 19 states were physically inspecting all of
their tanks at least once every 3 years—the minimum EPA considers 
necessary for effective tank monitoring. In addition, 22 states were not
inspecting all of their tanks on any regular basis. 

* While the number of leaks should decrease in the future—because all
new of active tanks should have leak detection and prevention 
equipment—we previously reported that 14 states traced newly discovered 
leaks to upgraded tanks and 20 states did not know whether their 
upgraded tanks leaked. 

* Finally, 10 states reported in the EPA-sponsored survey that they had
reopened a small number of completed cleanups because MTBE had been 
subsequently detected. If more states follow suit, the future cleanup 
workload will increase, although the size of this workload is unknown. 
In addition, states may be responsible for the costs of these reopened 
cleanups because tank owners and operators are not required to maintain 
financial responsibility for tanks that were properly cleaned up or 

States Rely on Their Own Programs and Private Parties to Pay for 
Cleanups, but May Require Federal Funding to Accelerate Cleanups and 
Address Abandoned Tanks: 

States have relied primarily on their own funding programs and private
parties to pay for cleanups, using the relatively small federal trust 
fund grants they receive for staff, program administration, and to a 
lesser extent, cleanups. States’ reliance on private and federal 
funding could increase in the future if they end their funding programs 
and begin to address the problem of abandoned tanks with no financially 
viable owner. 

State Funding Programs and Private Parties Have Paid for Most Cleanups: 

In creating the Underground Storage Tank program, the Congress expected 
tank owners and operators to take financial responsibility for cleaning 
up contamination from their tanks, correcting environmental damage, and 
compensating third parties for any injuries. Tank owners and operators 
were to demonstrate that they had the financial resources to cover 
potential cleanup liabilities. Initially, private insurers were hesitant
to take on the risks of providing liability coverage to owners and 
operators of underground storage tank systems, so many states created 
their own financial assurance funds. These state funds could be used to 
cover the financial responsibilities of owners and operators for site 
cleanup as long as long as the state funds met the federal financial 
responsibility requirements. Forty-seven states established such 
programs most often from a gasoline tax, an annual tank fee, or both, 
rather than state appropriations. The remaining three states relied on 
owners and operators to locate suitable insurance, now more readily 
available, or other financial resources. Under many state programs, 
owners or operators pay for the cleanup and seek reimbursement for a 
portion of the cleanup costs from the state. Six of the 13 states we 
contacted cap the amount of reimbursements and expect tank owners and 
operators to be financially liable for the remaining costs. 

In the May 2001 Vermont survey of state funding programs, states 
reported spending a cumulative $6.2 billion from their funds since 
their programs began (13 states did not report their costs). The amount 
of private funds spent on cleanups is unknown. At the time of the 
survey, 36 states reported having adequate funding to cover their 
current costs, but 11 other states said that they were about $625 
million short of the funds necessary to cover known claims. Program 
managers in five of the 13 states we contacted said that their state 
funds were stable. In addition, nine states reported that eligibility 
for their programs had ended[Footnote 12]—meaning they would no longer 
accept any reimbursement claims for new releases—and another seven 
states expected eligibility to end by 2026. Furthermore, the program 
fees used to replenish state programs had expired in 1 state and were 
expected to expire in another 12 states within the next decade. As a 
result of these provisions, tank owners and operators would be 
responsible for cleanup costs with no state funding support. 

States Have Used Federal Funds Primarily for Cleanup Oversight: 

States have been using federal grants from the Leaking Underground
Storage Tank Trust Fund primarily to pay for staff to oversee cleanups 
and pursue owners and operators so that they clean up their sites, 
according to the EPA program manager. States cannot use these federal 
funds to clean up releases when an owner or operator can pay. States 
spent $662.5 million in federal trust fund dollars from fiscal year 
1987 through fiscal year 2001, roughly 10 percent of the expenditures 
from states’ funds during the same period. States used $19.5 million, 
or 36 percent, of the $58.7 million they received in fiscal year 2001 
grants on cleanup (see figure 6). 

Figure 6: States’ Use of Grants from the Federal Trust Fund: 

[Refer to PDF for image] 

This figure is a pie-chart depicting the following data: 
Site Cleanup: 36%; 
Enforcement: 29%; 
Administrative: 35%. 

Source: EPA. 

[End of figure] 

Of the 13 states we contacted, 7 said that their programs rely on the
federal grants. On the other hand, for example, a program manager in
Florida said that the state’s program does not depend on federal grants
because it is a small amount of money compared with the amount coming
from the state fund. Some states use their federal funds for staffing 
costs. However, a Maryland program official pointed out that the size 
of the annual federal grants to states has not kept pace with the 
salary and other costs they must cover for staff. An Indiana program 
official attributed a backlog of 4,000 cleanups at one point in the 
state’s program to a lack of federal funding that could be used to pay 
for additional staff. States may be using their federal trust fund 
grants to pay for staff because the use of these funds is more 
restrictive than the state funds, which can be used to reimburse tank 
owners for their cleanup costs, among other things. 

Six states have used an additional funding source that receives federal
support to cover some cleanup costs, namely, their Clean Water State
Revolving Funds. States get federal seed money to initiate and maintain
this type of fund. Eligible parties can apply for loans under the fund 
and have used them to cover a variety of leak prevention and cleanup 
projects. According to the EPA, the six states using this vehicle have 
made a total of $84 million in loans for tank cleanups through June 
2000. Program managers in 9 of the 13 states we contacted said that 
they did not expect to use their revolving loan fund for tank cleanups. 

Some States May Seek More Federal Support for Cleanups in the Future: 

In addition to the federal grants and loan funds, some states may look 
to the federal government in the future to help them clean up those
abandoned tanks that pose health risks when financially viable parties
cannot be identified to pay for cleanups. States admit that they do not
often identify releases until they are closing or removing tanks, 
meaning that EPA and the states might inadvertently be underestimating 
the risks and cleanup workload that abandoned tanks pose. 

States may seek additional federal assistance to address abandoned tanks
if state funding programs expire or are depleted. As of January 2002, 
states can access one new source of federal funding for abandoned 
tanks, made possible by the Small Business Liability Relief and 
Brownfields Revitalization Act. Under the act, the Congress authorized 
up to $50 million annually to clean up properties that may be 
contaminated by a petroleum release, including abandoned tanks. 

Scope and Methodology: 

To respond to your questions, we primarily analyzed data (1) that states
reported to EPA on the status of tank releases, (2) from the December
2000 report on the EPA-sponsored survey of state tank programs, and (3)
from the May 2001 Vermont survey of state cleanup funding programs. In
addition, we contacted 13 state tank program managers to discuss their
cleanup workload, their concerns with MTBE, and their approach for
funding cleanups. We selected these states because they had addressed
the largest number of releases, had the largest backlog, or both. We 
also met with EPA tank program managers to discuss cleanup efforts. We
performed our work from April to May 2002 in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond
to any question you or Members of the Committee may have. 

Contact and Acknowledgments: 

For further information, please contact John Stephenson at (202) 512-
3841. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony were Ellen
Crocker, Rich Johnson, Eileen Larence, Gerald Laudermilk, Christopher
Murray, and Paul Schearf. 

[End of section] 


[1] Environmental Protection: Improved Inspections and Enforcement 
Would Better Ensure the Safety of Underground Storage Tanks [hyperlink,], May 4, 2001. 

[2] According to a recent EPA estimate, MTBE is used as an additive in 
about 87 percent of gasoline in the United States. 

[3] New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, A survey 
of State Experiences with MTBE Contamination at LUST Sites (Dec. 15, 

[4] Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, A Summary of 
State Fund Survey Results (May 2001). The Department conducts this 
survey annually. 

[5] Washington reported that it planned to add such testing by 2001. 

[6] National Survey of MTBE, Other Ether Oxygenates, and Other VOCs in 
Community Drinking Water Sources, U.S. Geological Survey (Open-File 
Report 01-399, 2001). 

[7] Contaminants of Drinking Water Sources in 2001: Recent Findings of 
the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Geological Survey (Open-File Report 00-
510, 2001). 

[8] Occurrence and Distribution of Methyl tert-Butyl Ether and Other 
Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water in the Northeast and Mid-
Atlantic Regions of the United States, 1993-98, U.S. Geological Survey 
(Water Resources Investigations Report 00-4228, 2001). 

[9] National Sciences and Technology Council, Committee on Environment 
and Natural Resources, Interagency Assessment of Potential Health Risks 
Associated with Oxygenated Gasoline (Feb. 1996). 

[10] Some of the components of concern in gasoline include benzene, 
toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. 

[11] Report to Congress on a Compliance Plan for the Underground 
Storage Tank Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA 510-R-
00-001, June 2000). 

[12] In Maine, fund eligibility expired only for “non-conforming” 
tanks—those which had not been upgraded with leak detection and 
prevention equipment. 

[End of section] 

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